In many African cities, as in cities in most parts of the ‘developing world’, informal, unscheduled and largely unregulated paratransit operations represent a significant – if not the only – mode of motorised public transport available to the great majority of residents. Such operations are essential in sustaining routine daily life in the cities in which they occur, but the service they offer is often compromised by poorly maintained and frequently unroadworthy vehicles, inappropriate and unsafe driver behaviour, and fierce, often violent, competition between rival operators both for specific routes and for passengers on those routes. For these and other reasons, attention in some cities – and, in particular, in certain African cities – has been focused on the questions of, firstly, whether an effort should be made to ‘formalise’ or regulate paratransit operations as part of an integrated public transport system and, secondly, if so, how any such process of regulation should proceed. Central to both questions are considerations of the extent to which it may be possible to better reconcile the interests of operators and those of their passengers and their employees (drivers, driver assistants, rank marshals, etc) through such processes of
‘formalisation’ or regulation.
This paper explores a selected literature around these essentially ‘institutional’ issues in order to identify a provisional set of appropriately framed questions through which to shape the agenda of a proposed research programme. The first section of the paper seeks to provide a preliminary statement of the programme’s research focus and a first cut at specification of the overarching research question. The second – and major – section of the paper then elaborates the key research questions in terms of the rationale for regulation of public transport services, as well as the counterarguments directed at it, the possible objects or focuses of regulatory intervention, and the range of possible regulatory regimes that might be deployed to manage competition in the public transport sector towards broadly defined ends. A brief conclusion suggests that the case study approach adopted for the research programme offers a potentially rich field for the comparative exploration of these questions, as well as pointers to an appropriate method of approaching the task of ‘formalising’ or regulating paratransit operations in contextually diverse urban situations.
In view of the very preliminary stage reached in the research programme at the time of writing, only limited reference is made to the current circumstances of paratransit operations in the three case study cities incorporated in it: Cape Town, Dar es Salaam and Nairobi.